It’s Sunday night, dinner’s on the stove, and your fifth-grader suddenly remembers that she needs a costume for the Arbor Day play tomorrow morning at school.
Cue the drones.
If companies like Amazon, Google, UPS, and Alibaba have their way, drones will soon play an increasingly significant role in the “last-mile” delivery — from warehouse to doorstep — of small, light packages that a customer needs now. Given that almost 80 percent of what consumers order online weighs 5 lb or less, delivery drones could have important implications for energy consumption, public safety, privacy, air and noise pollution, and air traffic management.
To gain a better picture of how commercial delivery drones might affect daily life, RAND put together a multidisciplinary team of experts to scope this new research area. Most of the details about drone designs and business plans are still proprietary, so the team marshalled its collective expertise — in advanced technologies, unmanned aerial vehicle operations, transportation research, systems analysis, modeling and simulation, and behavioral science — to study the different facets of drone delivery systems.
The team explored the hidden or indirect costs and the potential consequences, both positive and negative (what economists call externalities), of adopting commercial delivery drones. By helping regulators and policymakers understand the magnitude of the issues surrounding delivery drones, and by pinpointing areas where there will be a need for analysis, findings from this exploratory study can help shape a research agenda that balances innovation against the safety and well-being of the public.
Takeoff — Location Matters
If companies have their way, drones will soon play an increasingly significant role in “last-mile” delivery.
A drone’s point of departure will affect energy consumption, fleet size, aerial congestion, noise, and privacy. Using mathematical models, the research team explored the effects of delivery drones in four hypothetical city settings — again, without access to either proprietary aircraft designs or business models. What they found was that both the number and location of delivery drone centers matter.